The travel industry feared for the worst, amid news of the Biden Administration potentially rejiggering travel requirements for international arrivals.
Now, with the official details released, the worst was avoided, but the damage has already been done to future plans all over the globe.
A reintroduction of overnight bans spooked travelers around the globe, and risks of false positives abroad continue to drive people to stay domestic for a majority of trips.
If you’re entering the United States, new testing protocols for all arrivals are coming into in force, including for US all citizens. In short, you’ll need a covid-19 test to travel much closer to departure than before, and there are some asks, but not mandates for after you arrive.
Mask Mandate Extended Through March 18th, 2022
The federal mask mandate, which gives stronger enforcement possibilities to mask wearing on planes and inside airports, has officially been extended to march 18th.
The mandate was due to expire January 18th, unless extended, and given the current state of the global health situation, the Biden Administration has deemed it necessary to extend the mandate a further two months, at the very least.
New US Travel Testing Requirements
Previously, the US used a 3 day rolling system for pre-flight testing for all fully vaccinated arrivals, and a 1 day system for unvaccinated US citizens and permanent residents. All visitors must also be fully vaccinated with an approved vaccine.
If you were flying on Friday, any time from Tuesday onward was fine for a PCR or antigen test for fully vaccinated travelers, and this included self tests taken under video supervision.
Now, for all flights commencing December 6th, 2021 and onward, all travelers, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to test no more than one (1) day before departure. There’s now no nuance or added flexibility for being fully vaccinated, when it comes to pre-flight testing requirements.
The good news, however, is that any time the day before is fine. So if you’re flying any time Friday, any time on Thursday or Friday would work. Supervised antigen tests are also still accepted, as are a variety of others, so rapid options should be easy.
The move puts a slight damper on the notion that getting vaccinated and boosted would offer travel “unlocks” not enjoyed by those who are not. Here’s how the White House describes the new travel measures.
Strengthening global pre-departure testing protocols:
Early next week, the United States will tighten pre-departure testing protocols by requiring all inbound international travelers to test within one day of departure globally, regardless of nationality or vaccination status. This tighter testing timeline provides an added degree of public health protection as scientists continue to assess the Omicron variant.White House
What This Means For Trip Plans
Now, your last day of vacation, or preparing for vacation will be spent sweating it out until a negative result is received. Travel is wonderful, so it’s often “worth it”, but you won’t officially “know” you’re flying anywhere until the negative result is achieved.
If anything, this makes the tele-health style testing even more attractive than before. It’s not always easy, or fun to find a rapid test site abroad, particularly on the last day of a vacation, and these tests allow you to meet US requirements in comfort.
With the Abbott Labs BinaxNow test kits from eMed, or Qured LFD tests, among many others, there’s options for testing in the comfort of your own cozy hotel, rental or home, with video supervision and prompt digital uploading of the results.
PCR tests may provide a more accurate picture, but testing times and costs in most of the world make these less attractive to travelers. A 24 hour or less PCR test in the UK costs upwards of £150 (circa $200), versus faster antigen tests available for a fraction.
Breaking It Down: New US Travel Rules
Many reports suggested the US would introduce mandatory quarantine or additional mandatory testing after arrival. The briefing from the White House suggests neither will happen, after all. Full details should be available on the CDC website shortly.
But hey, at least some papers got money for clicks, right?
These moves may prove impactful in limiting the spread of covid-19 and as they currently exist, they won’t fundamentally change trip plans. Testing on a specific day, versus a few specific days prior to travel isn’t a huge ask, even if a small inconvenience.
For now, it appears that the most draconian measures have been avoided, and these steps will allow travel plans to continue, with an added layer of safety.